Human Rights and The Media: Two Cases

Last Monday during newspaper class (yes, there is such a course), we learned about the clash between human rights of victim and assailant, and freedom of speech for journalists. I thought the cases that illustrated the protection of human rights quite interesting.

1. The Kobe Child Murders (神戸連続児童殺傷事件)

On 16 March 1997, a girl was murdered with a hammer, and three other girls attacked and wounded by a knife. On 27 May, a 11-year old boy was strangled, beheaded with a handsaw and further mutilated in the face with a knife. The head was left in front of a junior high school gate. A confession note written by “Sakakibara Seito” was stuffed in the victim’s mouth. In June, the Kobe newspaper company received a confession letter signed with the same pseudonym, and containing threatenings of more killings. On the 28th of June, a 14-year old boy was arrested.

These murders were beyond atrocity and evoked strong reactions among vengeful inhabitants all over Japan. According to the Japanese law, minor assailants are protected from having their personal information like name, address and description of looks, published. However, in this case, a photograph of the young criminal was released in the magazine Focus. The Ministry of Justice protested against this due to “violation of human rights” and requested the magazine to withdraw their article. As a result, journalists accused the government of having violated “freedom of speech”.

When the culprit was released from the health institution on a provisional basis 6 years later, the media had lined up in front of the hospital en masse. On the Internet thousand of threads discussed his future address, shared photos, and gave away his real name. Again, the Ministry of Justice took action for the sake of a peaceful rehabilitation of the culprit in society, and requested the threads to be removed.

Because of the Kobe child murders, the age of criminal responsibility was lowered from 16 to 14 years. The discussion revived after the Sasebo slashing (also called Nevada Tan Case). In this case, a 11-year old girl slit the throat and arms of her classmate with a utility knife. Here as well, photos, information and real name circulated on bulletin boards on the Internet.

2. Murder of Yasuko Watanabe (東電OL殺人事件)

On 8 March 1997, Yasuko Watanabe, an elite economic researcher at TEPCO, was strangled to death in Shibuya. As soon as the media found out she was working as a prostitute after work, journalists eagerly started to collect information about the nightly activities of the victim. More than the murder case itself, the victim’s personal life was sensationalized and reported to great lengths. After all, people believed the victim was a “bad woman”, so violating her rights of privacy would no problem. At the trial, the victim’s mother said: “犯人ではなく、マスコミを死刑にしてほしい”. (Not the culprit, but the mass media I would like to see executed.)

Books about the victim's life

Books about the victim’s life –

Facts For Fun

– According to the Press Freedom Index 2013 of Reporters Without Borders:

In Asia, Japan (53rd, -31) has been affected by a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima. This sharp fall should sound an alarm.

Belgium is on the 21st place.


Online text-book of Japanese Studies, KU Leuven

– Wikipedia


One thought on “Human Rights and The Media: Two Cases

  1. i’m stunned. never heard about any of these. then again, i don’t usually research on the country, nor do i live there. those are pretty serious criminal acts.

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